TAIPEI — China is attempting to slowly assimilate Taiwan, said a new report issued by the London-based Business Monitor International (BMI).
“Taiwan: Defence & Security Report” includes five-year forecasts to 2016 of defense, economic, political and security trends.
Though relations across the Taiwan Strait are at an all time high, thanks largely to the presidential election of KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou in 2008 and his establishment of direct links with China, there are still areas of serious mistrust and suspicion across the strait, according to the report.
“We believe China will push for greater economic integration, cementing ties and trust to the extent that Taiwan will accept that it is subservient to Beijing,” the report said. However, while the writers of the report expect China to attempt to adopt Taiwan as a “special administrative region through rapprochement,” these attempts will most likely fail due to “stiff Taiwanese opposition to any ‘one country, two systems’ solution, with both main political parties in Taiwan against the idea.”
Even on a long-term time scale, reunification appears unlikely, as there is “no clear means by which this would come about.” Though China could overwhelm Taiwan with military force, the result would be “a bloodbath” and be “extremely risky for Beijing.”
The report quotes a recent poll taken by TVBS, a Taiwan television news organization, indicating that only 9 percent of respondents favored unification, while 61 percent preferred maintaining the status quo.
“On the whole, we believe Taiwan will maintain an ambiguous political status in the years to come, thereby maintaining a relatively stable political outlook,” says the report.
President Ma has stuck by a policy of avoiding China’s list of “flash point” issues: a formal declaration of independence; foreign intervention in Taiwan; acquisition of nuclear weapons; and internal unrest in Taiwan.
Ma’s insistence on maintaining the status quo and not moving toward independence has done much to placate China. However, there has been no quid pro quo by China. Beijing has failed to reduce or remove ballistic missiles aimed at the island, now numbering 1,300, and continues to resist renouncing the use of force, “and this remains an obstacle to the lasting peace deal which the Ma government has repeatedly said it would like to reach.”
China’s continued aggressive stance toward Taiwan has puzzled some in the U.S. who expect Taiwan to procure more arms. However, Taiwan maintains only a small supply of munitions for its fighter aircraft. In a war with China, Taiwan’s Air Force has sufficient munitions to last only two days.
“The U.S. military thinks Taiwan needs a minimum of 350 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), 160 Harpoons, 75 Mavericks and 3,000 Sidewinders to sustain it long enough for U.S. military forces to arrive. The minimum amount of time it would take the U.S. to respond is five days, but some estimates predict that Washington would debate the issue for as long as two weeks before committing forces to Taiwan’s defense,” says the report.
The report cites a tendency to focus on platforms as a reason for Taiwan’s reluctance to procure adequate supplies of munitions, “intending in the event of a crisis to place emergency orders for the missiles required.”
Still, Taiwan has made strides in developing indigenous counterstrike capabilities against China. Taiwan has begun outfitting ships with the new supersonic Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind) anti-ship cruise missile and is finalizing the development of its first land-attack cruise missile, the Hsiung Feng 2E.
Taiwan does fancy big-ticket, high-profile U.S. weaponry. Over the past 10 years, it has procured AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, CH-47SD Chinook cargo helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) air defense missile systems, Kidd-class destroyers, E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
Taiwan is one of the world’s most significant importers of military equipment, the report says. Between 1995 and 2002, Taiwan imported $20.2 billion worth of arms, making it the world’s second-largest arms importer during that period after Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Taiwan received $1.1 billion in arms, making it the fifth-largest importer in the developing world. Large-scale arms transfers continue, with Washington approving weapons packages worth $6.4 billion and $5.85 billion in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Despite Taiwan’s success at producing new counterstrike missiles, its defense industry suffers from a variety of financial, organizational and morale problems.
The military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, the facility that produces the Hsiung Feng missile, is “beset with difficulties and is rumored to be under threat of closure … this would be a blow for the government, as the institute is home to the most clandestine and sensitive projects within the industry.”
The China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) has struggled to convince the military that it can build diesel submarines, but military officials insist CSBC lacks the capabilities.
In 2001, the U.S. offered to provide Taiwan eight diesel attack submarines, but the U.S. has been unable to secure a supplier. CSBC stepped in with the Hidden Dragon program to build them indigenously, but the Taiwan military has fought a local-build program.
The report indicates Taiwan will be forced to significantly increase its defense expenditure from the current $12.9 billion for 2012 to $14.6 billion in 2013, $15.9 billion in 2014, $17 billion in 2015 and $18.5 billion in 2016. These numbers depend on the economy and political will of the government, but much of the increase will pay for arms now on delivery, the report said.
Taiwan has also requested 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft from the U.S., but so far the request has been ignored. If the sale goes forward, it would add $10 billion to the outstanding arms bill.